Coon Rapids repeats as Gopher Classic champs

The Coon Rapids American Legion baseball team won its second straight and third overall Jim Hanus Gopher Classic title July 17.

Bobby Smith hits a hard grounder during the July 17 Gopher Classic tournament championship round. Photo by Andy Rogers
Bobby Smith hits a hard grounder during the July 17 Gopher Classic tournament championship round. Photo by Andy Rogers

The team’s bats detonated while burgeoning pitchers emerged during the team’s run up to the final with a 6-0 win against Elk Grove (Ill.) on a sweltering field in Minnetonka.

“I have a felling of awe,” head coach Tom Yelle said. “It’s such an elite tournament. Some of these kids are going to be the top college kids and could be pros.

“So many things have to fall into place, both hitting and pitching.”

Coon Rapids’ Kent Sipola tossed a gem in the final after just two and a half days rest. He allowed four singles and no walks against a team that was coming off several decisive double-digit victories. He struck out six.

“You better have a lot of pitchers when you play so many games in just a few days.” Yelle said. “It’s the only tournament of this kind.”

In the semifinals against Lakeville North, Coon Rapids won 15-2 in five innings thanks to a sizzling bat and the strong arm of Nick Hanzick, who allowed six hits and two walks. He struck out two.

Coon Rapids has had to work around some tricky pitching situations all season with three of its top four throwers missing time.

Logan Shore played a few weeks for 18U USA national baseball team in late June and early July, on the run to make the 20-man cut. Now that he’s home, he’s on a pitch count.

(The second phase of the 18U USA national team trials is the week of Aug. 18. If Shore makes the 20-man cut, he will compete with team USA at the IBAF Junior AAA/18U World Championships in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 30-Sept. 8.)

In further reports of Coon Rapids Legion pitchers’ ailments, Cody Herrmann’s back has bothered him and Alex Wojociechowski’s elbow has shut him down.

That’s where guys like Sipola and Hanzick come in along with Bobby Smith, Herrmann, Grant Farley, Alex Aase and Jake Bruner.

“They really stepped up for us,” Wojociechowski said. “It’s been huge.”

By the end of the Gopher Classic, few teams were hitting as well. Coon Rapids scored 30 runs in 10 innings between Lakeville North 15-2 in the semifinals and Apple Valley 15-4 in the championship bracket July 16.

Against North, Wojochiewski had a double, triple and three RBI. He also had two doubles and a single in the championship. The two doubles were nearly home runs. Overall he hit .586 during the tournament with 12 total RBI.

Alex Boxwell, Pete Anderson and Casey Waterman all have batting averages above .400 and eight team members hit north of .300.

“They’ve picked it up about five, six notches,” Yelle said.

In pool play, Coon Rapids defeated Bloomington Gold, DePere (Wis.), Calgary and Farmington over the weekend in Bloomington.

Up next for the team was the 10th District tournament this week. It wanted to play as long as it can.

“It’s one of the best summers I’ve had,” Wojociechowski said. “I’m just hoping to have fun with the guys the rest of the year and see how far we can go. We’ve been rolling the past couple days. Hopefully we can bring that into districts.”

Editor’s note: ABC Newspapers staff writer Sue Austreng also contributed to this story.

Andy Rogers is at [email protected] 

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